| January 13, 2020
This is what is so tricky about this business of writing about the status of awards races, all of which lead to Oscar, which is ultimately the only thing that truly matters. I promise, no one whose intro graph includes “Golden Globe Winner” would not prefer it say “Oscar Winner.” Not one. Not even a little.
Yes, they are happy to have something and not nothing. But Oscar is, in fact, an award given to you by 9,000 or so people out of the 40,000 who work in your field of endeavor. And The Golden Globes are given out by 80something people, the vast majority of whom are low-profile or semi-retired journalists for international outlets and are based in Los Angeles. Oscar tries – and sometimes fails – to maintain decorum. The Globes tries to maintain their per diem and first-class travel and singular access to movie stars and filmmakers.
But insulting the iffy group that makes up the HFPA is not the challenging part.
It is that the pool of talent being in any way considered for awards – all not-meant-to-be-jokey awards – is of a very high level. There is no good reason to insult them for getting Award X or Tribute Y. They almost invariably deserve it.
Then there are the groups, like New York Film Critics Circle or Los Angeles Film Critics Association or even the Critics Choice Association (formerly the Broadcast Film Critics, which has a membership that was built on film journalism and not criticism, regardless of the name), which are not silly and persuadable by cheap or even pricey trinkets. They each have a unique communal voice. They swear they don’t. But they do… just as any voting group of under 300 people will.
Even groups like the nominating committee for the AFI Awards have a voice, as more than half of the annual nominating group comes from the same pool of regulars every year. There is nothing wrong with these people – unlike some of the HFPA members – but they have their tastes.
There are variables in how these varied groups vote. Some vote blindly. Some meet and negotiate through a day of awards picking. Some have demands of studios and the people making films that has become so fundamental to the process that failing to meet those demands is an instant fail.
But Mary Kay Place, who I have loved to watch since the Mary Hartman era (and if you don’t know that Norman Lear nightly soap opera/comedy/social drama beyond the name, you are likely under 45 and are missing a remarkable moment of television history), doesn’t deserve mockery in any way for being the object – as an example – of LAFCA’s annual urge to deliver at least one completely unpredictable award.
Of course, there is the flipside. Should Renée Zellweger or Robert De Niro or Ford v Ferarri be forced to wait for BFCA or The Globes to be recognized as a result of being seen as givens in the season from early on? Yes, it could be that LAFCA just doesn’t see Renée or Charlize or Saoirse or Scarlett as being as worthy in their work as MKP and Lupita… or we might be able to agree that there is contrarianism and muscle-flexing in the choice that is not just an objective analysis of a very subjective art form and its artists.
This is the crux of what is hard about this for me, as an analyst. It is insane to commit to a set of rules of any kind regarding all of this. It’s an impossible errand because every time someone decides they know the rules, the actual results upends that hubris.
At the core of this is the idea of actors – and others – competing based on the art they have created. How in God’s name do you try to compare what Willem Dafoe was doing in The Lighthouse with what Joe Pesci did for Scorsese in The Irishman? They are operating on a different planet. That is not to say that Pesci didn’t do something a lot more like Dafoe’s wild lighthouse keeper in Casino for Scorsese or that Dafoe didn’t do something a lot more like Pesci in The Irishman for Scorsese in The Last Temptation of Christ.
How does one compare Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers, delivering a character that relies on many of the charms Lopez offers in her many performance venues and Margot Robbie slowly building a subtle portrait of a strong woman who becomes a victim? Both lean into their beauty. But one performance is all about that seductive charm that draws men and women into objectifying and underestimating an ambitious woman and the other is a character who is trying to not be seductive at all to the person objectifying her while consciously using her physical advantages to advance her career. Maybe these characters are closer than I was thinking, but they are very different in many ways.
With due respect to the many, many critics’ groups whose awards and nominations will land after The Globes announce tomorrow morning, they are lovely. But none really move the Oscar meter. We are now in the post-critic, pre-show-group period of The Oscar Race.
The critics that get some traction have spoken. And here are the critics’ winners who will get a benefit, perhaps making real progress towards Oscar nominations…
Claire Mathon (DP of Portrait of a Lady on Fire)
That’s not nothing. I would argue that Lopez was already in good shape and Parasite/Bong were close to the line. But the rest needed real help and got it.
For Antonio Banderas to get a nomination, he needs to push out either Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio. Obviously, Pryce seems like the most vulnerable. But he has made himself available in a way the other two have not and as The Two Popes gains momentum – which could end up being illusory – his work seems as strong if not stronger than the other two with the constituency of actors who vote for Oscar nominations. I hate the idea of the two once-stars of Evita fighting for a slot.
And who really thinks Eddie Murphy, one of the most under-celebrated acting geniuses of his generation, should be hoping to just slide in? And what of the flat reception for Ford v Ferrari, which audiences love and critics can’t be bothered to acknowledge in all of its middle-aged white maleness? Christian Bale is perfect in this role… but his likelihood of getting in requires that Oscar voters just don’t pay any attention at all to the critics and precursors.
Nyong’o is part of a group of potential nominees of color who are hovering around the last seemingly-open slot for Best Actress. But Awkwafina and Cynthia Erivo have also gotten some attention in this last 10 days. And of the 4 presumed frontrunners, only Scarlett Johansson has gotten any recognition. But for the outsiders looking in, attention can make a big difference as we get to the Great Settling.
Finally, Mathon seeks to become the second female Cinematography nominee in history. But her movie has a small footprint. In the last decade, I count four out-of-the-box Oscar nominations in this category. Two of them were for Łukasz Żal for his two films with Paweł Pawlikowski. One was six-time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel, who was surprising only because he was nominated for the international film, Never Look Away. And finally, Rachel Morrison, who got a nod for Mudbound two years ago, although not without a hard push by Netflix (which some feel was so heavy-handed that it cost her the Oscar… although Deakins finally winning was tough to overcome).
And here is what will happen after the Golden Globes announce tomorrow morning…
And a few hard realities.
The discussion will be more about what didn’t get nominated than what did… at least, amongst the informed. Because the quirky separation of comedy/musical and drama will make the Globes nods seem, well… weird.
Being in a comedy or musical is, this season, a massive advantage in getting a nomination from these hucksters. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and Jojo Rabbit are the only serious Oscar Best Picture contenders being positioned as Comedy for The Globes. So that opens up a lot of slots.
One issue is that no one wants to get Martianed… which is to say that no film that has some humor and drama wants to be categorized as a Comedy because of how this seems to have handicapped The Martian a few years ago.
But the question is, does a film like Bombshell find itself lost in the middle, unable to get a Drama slot against a loaded field and staying away from Comedy, thus starting the whispers that it can’t make it for Oscar?
And there is this… I fully expect at least twi Oscar BP nominees not to be nominated by The Globes. So being left out is not a death sentence. (Parasite is not eligible for either of The Globes’ Best Picture slots.)
But as the hum of gossip will have it, you can’t win a Best Picture Oscar without at least a nomination from The Globes.
Well… Sometimes gossip has a sturdy foundation.
And indeed, you have to go all the way back to 2006, back in the days of just five Oscar BP nominees, to find an Oscar Best Picture winner that was not nominated for a Golden Globe for Picture. Crash! Before that aberration, you have to go back 37 years to 1982 and 1981, when The Globes missed two years in a row on Gandhi and Chariots of Fire. But that was more than a decade before NBC started televising, thus legitimizing the show and indeed, 1982 also was the year of the most famous Globes win of the past… Pia Zadora for Butterfly.
So… Can you win The Real Best Picture without getting a Fool’s Gold nom?
Whatever the alchemy, it seems like the longest of shots.
Because what we know is that not winning precursors is not fatal… but not being in the conversation – meaning nominations – may well be.
So whether the approval of 80something 80somethings should mean anything to Oscar voters — especially as so many are so excited by the demographic shift at The Academy — it would be stupid to pretend that any stat this robust isn’t legit.
And the same stat is true of the Best Actor and Actress categories. Of course, the Globes nominates 10 in each. Regardless of that, in all these last 40 years, no Best Actor or Actress Oscar winner was not at least Globes nominated.
It is not true of the Supporting Acting categories, so if tomorrow goes badly for them, they can have about 10% hope of still being nominated and winning. It’s been over a decade in both categories since this happened, so perhaps it’s time for it to happen again. (On the other hand, maybe The Globes became so important to publicists that it just hasn’t happened since Alan Arkin in 2006-07.)
Of course, every stat has exceptions and some do change in a very real way. So you always have to be willing to accept both notions at the same time.
Did I mention that this part of the awards season is tricky?
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